Category Archives: Girls and role models

OUTRAGED? I WAS THE ONLY ONE WHO WASN’T. By Lucy Lawrence

I was not outraged by the audacity of the clothing chain Primark in selling padded bikini tops to girls aged seven this week. Frankly I was not even mildly surprised. Let’s face it, these pink and sparkly fake breasts were quite mild compared to some of the other vile tat that’s been sold to children as good, harmless fun. Pole dancing kits spring to mind.

Anyway, there was enough outrage coming from all sides to render any I might have drummed up, redundant.

Firstly, I want to stress that I did not, under any circumstances, consider it to be a ‘good thing’ for this product to be in shops. I am glad they have gone. It is a good move for Primark and it is a good move for parents who already have a hard enough job keeping daughters dressed appropriately for their age rather than their preferred future career.

It is not, however, a victory for The Sun newspaper which reported its own ‘outrage’ on Wednesday that these ‘paedo bikinis’ were on sale, encouraging paedophiles everywhere (to do what?). Hours later when, after caving in to all the negative publicity Primark pulled the offending items off its shelves and offered to donate any profits from their sales to charity, this was hailed by the newspaper as ‘The Sun wot won it’ or some other ‘amusing’ headline.

The rank hypocrisy of this tabloid beggars belief. Condemning ‘sexy’ products for the under-10s on one page, while encouraging teenage girls, not even a decade older, to ‘get them out for the lads’ on Page 3. This is a national newspaper that makes its money out of objectifying young women and turning them into sex objects. And yet it never questions that this ‘in yer face’, and on the breakfast table, socially acceptable sexuality might arouse the curiosity of, and a desire to emulate, in pre-pubescent girls.

The Sun makes money by pedalling soft porn and fantasy femininity and then attempts to take the moral high ground against another, equally cynical, business venture which is trying to hook these girls in younger and younger. Who gave The Sun’s editor the moral compass?

I reserve scorn too for the politicians – all of them. As expected, all three major political parties claimed to be outraged by these bikinis. But still, even in the 21st century, all of these politicians are so busy trying to be popular with Britain’s biggest selling tabloid, that they would never dare risk its wrath by condemning Page 3. None are willing to take a stand and demand soft porn mags like Nuts and Zoo be placed on the top shelf, nor are any prepared to admit that there just might be a connection between the images girls and women are exposed to in the media and the ever increasing numbers of breast augmentations et al. being carried out year on year in the UK. It used to be an insult to call somebody plastic. Now our girls aspire to it.

And finally there is the outrage coming from the Left. There seemed to be a backlash against parents for objecting to the sexualisation of children.

One blogger wrote: “The pubescent padded bra has been hijacked by the faux-feminist family values brigade as a symbol of moral decline. There is a distinct class element to this puritan agenda.” She continues by arguing that middle-class mums are ganging-up on Primark because working class mums shop there? Really? Wouldn’t middle class mums gang-up on Sainsbury’s if it were selling sexist clothes for children?  Oh, I did.

So, in a world where, judging by Channel 4 news’s vox pop on this issue, we are becoming immune to these things – most Primark shoppers hadn’t even registered this garment was on sale, let alone judged it inappropriate – in a world where nearly 9,000 British women a year have breast augmentation, in a world where children have internet access to porn before they’ve even reached puberty, in a world where 46% of girls aged 11 to 16 would consider cosmetic surgery and that girls start finding fault with their appearance as early as 10 or 11* and in a world where girls are not encouraged to play dressing-up like their mums but encouraged to play dressing up like highly-sexed pop stars, it’s my argument that we should stand back and take a look at where things are going and then imagine where we want them to be.

Girls don’t want padded bikinis so they’re not teased by the boys at school – for heaven’s sake, they’re hardly going to be wearing them under their polo shirts. They want these bikinis so they look like Hannah Montana, Cheryl Cole and Jordan. Three decent role models? I leave that up to you.

But when I go on holiday with my four-year-old son this summer, the last thing I want is for him to experience a beach  awash with seven-year-old girls playing at being teenagers in push-up bikinis. Girls will always be girls – but they don’t always have to be sex objects.

* A study by the Girl Guides

Four Women in Space

Pinkstinks recently had great success in persuading Sainsbury’s to stop the gender stereotyping of its dressing-up clothes. We’re really proud of this and while I was putting together our next newsletter I was brooding on why something seemingly so trivial is really so important.

Did you know that there are four women in space right now? More women simultaneously than ever before. I find this so exciting. When Emma and I were kids we met Valentina Tereshkova, the first ever woman in space. We were 12 years old at the time and I remember shaking her hand and her telling us (through an interpreter) that we had nice names! It really stuck with me. She became real and her achievement all the more impressive as she stood there before us – a seemingly normal woman who had achieved unimaginable things.

As we now live in a world where four women are ‘up there’ at one time, in a world where women have commanded space shuttles, where they fly with the Red Arrows, where they win Oscars for directing movies, where they save lives in hospitals every day, how similarly unimaginable does it seem that we live in a world where doctors’ dressing-up clothes can still be labelled only for boys? And for that matter, why can’t boys be nurses? As someone who had a male midwife present at the birth of her first child, I can vouch for the second-to-none care I received from a man in what is almost exclusively thought of as a woman’s role.

So, trivial to some but not to us. Let’s open up the possibilities of all things to all children and not pigeon-hole them from the moment they’re born. Let’s encourage them to make believe that they can be anything they want to be. Let’s certainly not let big business tell them what they can and can’t be.

Someone who works ‘on the front line’, as they themselves put it, in a large toy store in the US emailed me recently. He said it so succinctly: “I just wish it wasn’t such a battle to provide kids with opportunities.”

Transformers: Sexism, in disguise by Georgi Banks-Davies

I went to see the epic summer blockbuster Transformers 2, in the epic Imax this week. To put what I am about to say in context this was a big deal for me. I love this stuff: robots, action, love, goodies, baddies, and well unexpectedly lots of doe-eyed ridiculously attractive mouth-slightly-ajar 18 year old girls. And it was here that I actually started to feel slightly uncomfortable.

For those of you who have not seen the film, let me briefly paint the picture. The cast mainly consists of some robots (all lead ones male); a lead teenage boy; two parents; lots of ‘average’ college boys; and, the aforementioned teenage girls. Our lead male goes to college, where, it appears that to gain entrance as a women you need to have taken a very different kind of exam. One akin to working at Abercrombie and Fitch. Literally nearly every woman said nothing, but looked exactly like she had stepped out of the 2007 FHM calendar.

The most perfect scene to highlight my point is a college lecture. A geeky, cocky lecturer type (played by an ‘average’ looking US comic, who I vaguely recognised), talks to a room full of geeky boys, and the spawn of Cindy Crawford, Giselle and Kate Moss, all sitting, gorgeously, doe-y eyed, mouth slightly open (you get the picture). The lecturer takes a bite of his apple, then drops it suggestively to the floor, at which point we cut to the class full of young women as they pant and gasp as if Brad Pitt is doing unmentionables to them under the desk, to which he responds  “you can eat that later”. WTF!?

“Hold on”, I hear you cry. What about the second lead in the movie, the side-kick, power woman that is Megan Fox. Now, for those of you who saw the first movie, she was a tough, fighting, side-kick cookie. Well it seems as she was deemed so ‘successful’ to the audience in that movie, that they now perfected her into the perfect character … a blow up doll, but one that miraculously runs in her heels while a 100 ton robot chases her. (And keeps her lipstick on her perfectly always puckered lips even whilst having running 15 miles through the desert.) She is so gratuitously shot by the filmmaker that in her opening scene, as she leans over a motorcycle, whilst the camera travels up her leg to her short skirt, that at least 80 per cent of the cinema audience crossed their legs.

Now admittedly as a 30 year old women I am not in the 13-23 yr old young male demographic that Dreamworks and Paramount are aiming at. And don’t get me wrong I loved the movie. But come on guys (and it sadly was guys who would have made every part of it … but that’s another blog)! I know 16 year old boys are gonna literally wet themselves over this, and you’ll make tons of Disney dollars, but surely there has to be a line. Even if young women are not the intended audience what is this saying to young men? It’s sex on a stick, it’s verging – at points – on pornographic. The sadder point is that if Hollywood has chosen to put ‘normal’ girls in the college scenes, they would probably wear glasses and fall over in the corridor holding a pile of big books.

It takes simple measures: lose the lecturer scene, please. Don’t so blatantly objectify one of Hollywood’s most rising young stars (it’s sad that Megan Fox is basically manipulated to become the porn pinup for the wii generation.)

If we don’t draw a line on the representation of women in these movies somewhere, the big issue is how far will it go until it stops?

Transformers I love you dearly, but please realise the power you have to talk to a mass audience and give young women some dignity and respect, because at the end of the day that’s what this film has a huge lack of.

Girls get their kicks by Helen Donohoe

My niece is doing amazing things. At the vulnerable age of seven she is making her very own stand against the pinked up tyranny that surrounds her.  She doesn’t like pink anymore. Hallelujah I cry. Not only that but she would like to wear shorts rather than that school dress please. Good choice! Much better for climbing. She’s also taken the brave decision to wear her football kit of choice as she proudly takes part in the inevitably boy-dominated football sessions after school. All the braver because her football kit of choice is Tottenham Hotspur’s.   The boys in their mass marketed Chelsea and Man Utd uniforms think this is funny – but she can handle that.  What she finds much harder to cope with is the horrible stick she gets from the girls; ‘you look like a boy’, ‘that’s what boys’ wear’ ‘do you want to be a boy?’.

It’s so familiar to me. It’s as if 30 years of my life never happened. In 1979 I was in exactly the same place.  The kit was red with white sleeves but the bullying was just the same.

On the face of it that is quite depressing. However if you look closer there is room for a smile. There will always be spirits that can not be fenced in. No force in the world would ever stop me playing football (and many have tried).  But women and girls all over the world play football in far tougher circumstances than I or my niece have ever faced. I sent this article to her as a reminder of that.

And here’s another great piece of film.

However, we need a prevailing culture that means you don’t have to be brave or tough to have the same choices as boys.  Naturally cultural change is complex and multi-faceted but role models are essential.  That is why it is absolutely critical that the Football Association get women’s football right. They govern the game in England, where the game was invented.  They have responsibility for the development of the game at all levels and ultimately they have the ability to allow women and girls’ football to thrive – or in the current climate at least survive.  Arsenal Football Club have for over ten years set the inspirational standard of what women and girls’ football could look like.  The players are heroes. My two year old girl can shout their names and if I ever need reminding of how far we have come, I just take my daughters and their friends to join the crowd that every Sunday watch Arsenal women play.  This year they won the FA Cup and League again.

However, they really are the exception that proves what the norm could be.

Thirty years on from my experience as a girl daring to be different the links are still missing.  When girls on the one hand can dream of growing up to be Rachel Yankey, but still face bullying for just wanting to join in with the boys (or hopefully other girls playing football) we still have a long way to go. If you’re a football fan ask your club what they are doing for women and girls’ football (pink scarves in the club shop is not the right answer!) or remind the FA how critical it is for them to invest in the women’s game.

Not every girl or indeed boy will get their kicks from chasing a football around a park.  However, that should be their choice and no one else’s.

Orla - supporting Arsenal Ladies

Orla - supporting Arsenal Ladies

GIRLATION – YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME! By Lucy Lawrence

What is wrong with this picture? A young girl (age indeterminable – but under 18) steps out on to the red carpet. As the flashbulbs of the waiting paparazzi fire up into a strobe-like frenzy, this little girl, short-skirted, glittering and fully made-up, totters up the steps to the event entrance in the ill-fitting skyscraper heels bought especially for this moment. She smiles coyly and waves at the photographers before disappearing inside. “So this is what it’s like to be famous,” she thinks.

So is there anything wrong with this picture? I think so. Because this girl is not famous. She is not Miley Cyrus or Rihanna at an award ceremony or charity gala. She is not an actress or musician or writer or scientist or sportswoman. She is just a girl who thinks it would be cool to be famous. A girl who knows nothing of the reality of becoming famous, of the work it takes to get there and the talent that is (or certainly used to be) required.

This little girl could be, for example, a visitor to an event being run by a set-up called U4U (www.u4uk.co.uk) at London’s NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM, appropriately and ridiculously called GIRLATION. The good people at U4U say this seemingly pointless and shallow event is a ‘funky, fun & interactive conference for young ladies’. Girlation will ‘educate, inform and inspire’ and here’s how…

STAR TREATMENT – Your 11-18 year olds will be EDUCATED in the mysterious ways of the red carpet. Er, they will be faced with imitation paparazzi and a hot pink (natch) carpet at the entrance

FREE PAMPERING – The girls will INFORMED about the necessity to look good at all times by being able to experience massages, manicures and, of course, the ubiquitous makeovers

TEMPTING INDULGENCES – Your daughters can then be INSPIRED to spend their money in booths stuffed full of cupcakes and chocolates. Those watching their figures can splash the cash at the branded fashion concessions.

And we are promised EDUCATIONAL EXPERIENCES. What might these be? Er, a high heel boot camp? Apparently it explores positive development. Come again? Is aspiring to be able to walk in high heels a positive thing? Should it even be an aspiration at all? WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE AND ARE THEY MAD?!

Well according to the website, which it has to be said is very light on detail, U4U ‘supports young ladies in becoming good citizens today and positive leaders tomorrow through weekly meetings, activities, mentoring, professional coaching & small business projects’.

Sadly there is no more information on who these people are, where these meetings are held and/or what qualifications they have to be running youth groups – if indeed they are.

Suspicious? Yes, a tad. Especially as their unvalidated and outrageous claims continue:

* society values the attributes of U4U members

* university admissions will recognise them as assets to their programs

* employers will have confidence in their leadership, resourcefulness & professional skills

* government organisations will recognise & reward U4U members as positive contributors

* parents discover a solution that meets their daughters [sic] needs: offering support they might not be able to give; helping their daughters navigate through the difficult teenage years; connecting their daughter with good friends & facilitating good choices

Er, never heard of them. Sorry. No words in English are more brilliantly self-explanatory than synonyms for lack of meaning and substance. When I visit the U4U website and read about all the ‘wonderfulness’ that GIRLATION will offer, these are the words which run through my mind. I find myself thinking of gems such as absurdity; inanity and gibberish. Balderdash; tommyrot and drivel. What about blether; blather and blah-blah, not forgetting flapdoodle; flimflam and poppycock. But the claims being made about this event are far more than simple twaddle. It is insidious and cynical; exploitative and dishonest. Shame on the Natural History Museum. Shame on U4U.

Lucy Lawrence

Campaign trail

We were lucky enough to attend the STEM ambassadors event yesterday in the House of Lords. An amazing organisation which sees brilliant people working in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths volunteering their time to work with schools to teach kids about the amazing career opportunities that are out there. The event also launched a fantastic new photography exhibition called Leading Lights. The pictures aim to show scientists in a new light – no lab coats and test tubes allowed. It’s really worth a look and we will be featuring some of the ambassadors on our website as they are truly great role-models.

Speaking of which. The PR agency who were working with STEM Net, were really pleased to get a double page spread in the Times Magazine a few weeks ago, featuring some of these amazing people. Unfortunately, there was someone far more ‘interesting’ to go on the cover than one of these brilliant ambassadors.  And guess who this amazing cover shot was?

Here’s a clue: the sub head was: “A feminsit icon of our time?”

Have at think.

YES! Katie Price aka JORDAN! EH? You know. Jordan – the ex page three model. That amazing ‘feminist icon’.

I’m not going to get into a Katie Price bashing session. She has undoubtedly done some good things in her time. She’s clearly an astute business woman. She has dealt with her son’s disability in an admiral way and is clearly of some support to parents who have similar issues to contend with. But, there’s no getting away from the fact that her fame and fortune is inextricably linked to her status as a glamour model – surgically enhanced and selling her body to the paying public.

She was on the cover of the magazine because her face and her boobs sell papers. Full stop. The real feminist icons. The ones who are changing the world and curing disease and solving problems and saving lives are not cover material. And our argument is, is that they should be. When being smart is being cool (to pinch Michelle Obama’s phrase) that is the day when Katie Price is off the cover and Jo Carris, Laurie Winkless, Liza brooks, Clare Woods … are on it.

One of the women featured in that article has written a short and sweet response to the Editor’s decision. I wonder whether the editor will have the guts to print it. I sincerely hope so.

I’ll ‘print’ it here. Just in case you don’t get to see it.

Dear Sir/Madam,

The Magazine supplement to today’s Times (Saturday 18th April) featured Katie Price (a.k.a. Jordan, former glamour model), Jo Carris (environmental sustainability consultant), Laurie Winkless (nanomaterials research scientist), Liza Brooks (mechanical engineer and
founder of a snowboard company), and Clare Wood (computational engineering research officer).

No prizes for guessing which one had her picture on the front cover, with the tag-line “A feminist icon for our times?”

I’m saddened that the Times chose to reinforce the view held by so many young people in Britain today, that attaining celebrity status is more important than pursuing an intellectually-challenging career.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Heather Williams, Physicist and STEM Ambassador

Heather – we thank you.

I was also lucky enough to go to the launch of a new website yesterday too, at the Sheila McKechnie Foundation. www.campaigncentral.org.uk is a new site which links campaigners together and gives advice to those wishing to make change.

It was a real pleasure to meet, and then hear speak, Jackie Schneider of the Merton Parents school dinners campaign. She’s an inspiration. She called herself a right pain! But I guess that’s what being a great campaigner is all about.

I also met Dinah Cox of the Rosa fund. She spoke too about the incredible strength of campaigners in the women’s field and it was hugely complimentary to see her handwritten list of ‘campaigns of note’ included PinkStinks.

Finally, today I received the latest copy of KnockBack – a fantastically funny and brilliant magazine for women – billed as a ‘Magazine we made because we don’t like the magazines they made for us’. I urge you to send a donation and get a copy. I laugh through the entire thing. I wish the editors of the Times were as brave and as brilliant as the creators of this.

Dora – loses her way

A sillouhette of the new Dora

A sillouhette of the new Dora

So, the thing that is bugging me most, and thanks to shaping-youth for blogging about this too, and getting PinkStinks all cross.

Let’s imagine our lives. Let’s remember when we were young. I do, I wanted to be a vet. Lots of kids do … lots of girls do I think. Then I kind of got put off, because I realised you needed to be good at sciences, and things like that, oh, and 7 years at university … well … then I decided that as I was good at drawing, I’d do graphics … so I did, then … well. Whatever, it doesn’t matter. But something that absolutely DID not happen to me, on my journey, was that I was NEVER ever, a tween.
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If I was a kid now though … there’d be no escaping it.
I think it’s meant to be between the ages of 8, to about 12 … those ruthless marketeers would know the precise age range, and it’s here that our girls truly start to be bombarded with messages, about what it is to be a girl, what they need to look like, own, which kind of girl they’ll be, all cleverly disguised as ‘choice’ but really, a whole heap of marketing opportunities  and top wedge to be made.
Here’s the Wiki – on ‘Tween’
Tween is an American neologism and marketing term[6] for preteen. A blend of between and teen,[4][5] “tween” in this context is generally considered to cover the age range from eight to twelve years.[5]
Tween seems sometimes to be used in such a way as to suggest it’s some sort of scientific theory (or fact) … but I think it came from the same science as pentapeptides, and lipopeptides and all those other mysterious peptide cousins
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There’s tons of great stuff about ‘tweens’ in the book Consumer Kids: How big business is grooming our children for profit. By Ed Mayo and Agnes Nairn.  
So, what’s Dora got to do with this? Well, Dora is going tween, later this year. And you have to ask yourself: “my God, WHY?”  She’s by no means perfect, she’s had some princess moments, her merchandising often betrays who she really is. However, most of the time, she’s climbing mountains, reading maps, navigating rivers, teaching us spanish and just plain old exploring. But her journey has been sabotaged, by the evil marketeers, who want to take away the dreams of girls, and turn them into nightmares. Dora, allegedly might still be solving a few mysteries, but only on her way to the mall. She’s gone and grown-up hasn’t she … and guess what, when girls grow up, they don’t want to explore and discover anymore, unless it’s new nail polish, or some great accessories or, or, well: go take a look on your highstreet. There’s plenty of ‘choice’.
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I bet you, yes I do, that once she’s ‘tweened’, we’ll be informed promptly of the educational learning value of the the new Dora, of how she is encouraging creativity in girls, and helping them ‘belong’. This is a common tactic used by websites. ‘Parents, fear not, it’s in the interests of our girls, that Dora becomes fashionista. Honest.’ Good grief. Give us a break would you. We just don’t buy it. (Forgive the pun.)
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David Attenborough has been making fantastic new programmes, about amazing events in nature airing on the BBC at the moment. My son (aged 6) LOVES them. Tonight, as usual, all amazing, moving stuff. It struck me … Dora would have loved it. Well, until she got tweened that is. Now she’d be more interested in which cropped top goes with which denim skirt. Not what she’ll need in her backpack, and where has that pesky map gone to?
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We await her arrival with baited breathe, but let’s just say, tweening ain’t our backpack.
Hardy Girls Healthy Women in the States are starting a campaign to ‘Save Dora’ – The  Let’s Go: No Makeover campaign, 
You can sign their petition HERE
Here’s a short excerpt from the petition outline page:
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That’s why we’re sending this letter to Mattel and Nickelodeon! Join us for Let’s Go: No Makeover for Dora. Help us tell the execs at Mattel and Nickelodeon to “Let GO” of Dora. Either let her live on as her wonderful self, or create a pre-teen doll that is true to who she was as a child!

Sign onto the letter below and we’ll add your name to the list of concerned parents, activists, educators, and girls who refuse to stand aside while yet another girlhood icon becomes the victim of marketers’ schemes: 
We support the campaign whole-heartedly. 

 

This is apparently the Dora behind the sillouhette

This is apparently the Dora behind the sillouhette